Read Tales of the Hasidim, Vols 1-2 by Martin Buber Free Online
Book Title: Tales of the Hasidim, Vols 1-2|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 31.56 MB
v The author of the book: Martin Buber
Date of issue: July 23rd 1991
ISBN 13: 9780805209952
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books Tales of the Hasidim, Vols 1-2:I became curious about Hasidic legends and folklore after reading one or two in a different book about Jewish culture. While they don't represent Judaism exclusively, these stories have endured as a significant part of its heritage. For gentiles, Hasidic Jews are often the most visible members of this religious and ethnic community, and this book is an extensive collection of the anecdotes, quips, and aphorisms they used to define themselves over the last few centuries.
The Hasidic tradition is historically traced to the early 18th century, although like most mystic orders, it lays claim to a deeper spiritual ancestry. Its "founder," the Baal Shem Tov, embodied the qualities and traits that Hasidism is known for--things like emphasizing joy and community over sober religious study and an elite spiritual hierarchy. At the core of his teaching was the idea that knowledge of God, the divine, etc., is mysterious, but also accessible. Like the Eastern masters might say though, piercing this mystery is only as easy as you allow it to be.
Consider this lesson taught by a zaddik (Hasidic teacher) known as the Great Maggid: "The maggid once said to his disciples: 'I shall teach you the best way to say Torah. You must cease to be aware of yourselves. You must be nothing but an ear which hears what the universe of the word is constantly saying within you. The moment you start hearing what you yourself are saying, you must stop." This bears a strong resemblance to other mystical teachings and philosophies around the world and across different times. The ability to learn and grow wisely is already within you, but "you" have to get out of the way. It's like how deceptively simple meditation is: all you have to do is think about nothing. Only when you try do you realize how hard that is! And only when you cease trying do you realize how well within your grasp it always was.
Another recurring feature within Hasidic tales is the importance of spiritual tutelage, directly under a master. Known as "zaddiks," these men claimed authority via their own teacher, and so on, often going back to the Baal Shem himself. This may seem contradictory to what I said earlier about the lack of spiritual hierarchy, but a zaddik did not just rule because he knew another zaddik, or was the son of one. He had to inspire his Hasidim in a profoundly personal way. The devotion this invoked in some Hasidic followers bordered on a personality cult, and explains the many legendary tales of zaddiks conversing directly with the spirit world, or being able to read minds. It is not unlike the tradition of "silsila" in Sufi Islam. Fakirs connected themselves with a spiritual lineage, but this was only the foundation for the intense bond between teacher and student (like the famous relationship between Rumi and his master, Shams Tabrizi). This kind of mentoring cannot be taught or learned from a book; it has to be lived and experienced. This is also why many of the Hasidic tales ridicule those who sacrifice these personal connections in favor of intellectual isolation.
Even with a tendency toward skepticism, I think there is something to admire about a religious community that develops in this way. Legends and stories about impossible events generally arise after someone has already been moved by something much less spectacular, but nonetheless important. The Seer of Lublin probably didn't have the ability to look at a man and instantly know his past, present, and future. But he didn't have to when a troubled disciple came to him in one tale:
"A hasid complained to the rabbi of Lublin that he was tormented with evil desire and had become despondent over it. The rabbi said to him: 'Guard yourself from despondency above all, for it is worse and more harmful than sin. When the Evil Urge wakens desires in man, he is not concerned with plunging him into sin, but with plunging him into despondency by way of his sinning." The release from fear, shame, and self-hatred contained in such an answer is palpable. You don't need to be Jewish, or even religious, to appreciate it. In another story, a Hasid asks his teacher what he should do when he committed evil. His response was to forget about it and do good to counteract it.
This kind of counter-intuitive approach to what we normally associate with religion today demonstrates that ancient thinkers often knew more than we credit them for. They were at their best when they stood outside established dogmas, bucking mainstream wisdom and the cynicism that often accompanies it. The Hasidim were often bitterly opposed by more traditional Jewish leaders (who are just collectively referred to as the Mitnagdim, or "opponents") because they frequently did the opposite of what was considered "good sense"--praying only when they felt like it, or praising and honoring those deemed ignorant and simple by the haughty. Sometimes they even praise what appears to be irredeemable from a religious perspective--in one tale a zaddik essentially says even atheism can be valuable, because an atheist would want to help as many people as he can, since there is no God to help them instead. It says something that an argument normally made only by atheists now was being made centuries ago by a rabbi.
As with anything from an older time, there are unjust and outdated ideas mixed in with the good. Women in particular often receive a less than dignified role in some of the stories (though to be fair, a couple defend them in an almost proto-feminist way). Even removing these negative examples, women just disappear into the background. The Hasidic way is almost the exclusive domain of men, a strange gap considering its strong insistence on the immediacy of experiencing God. This is not a misplaced modern critique; other well-known mystic traditions have been open to and even highly inclusive of both genders. The Sufis can be cited here again, having some all-female tariqas and prominent female saints like Rabia al-Adawiyya. If there is anything comparable in Hasidism, Buber did not include them.
In addition to the tales, Buber includes a glossary of Jewish terms, along with notes on certain Talmudic beliefs that help give greater literary context. The "Evil Urge" mentioned above, for example, is not a term for Satan, or even a "sin nature" as Christians would put it. It is a natural inclination to do bad deeds in situations where it is difficult to avoid. The Hebrew term is "Yetzer hara," and all humans have it. While the difference between this and "original sin" may seem subtle, it becomes much more significant as you read the tales. While sinful acts are not excused, there is an understanding that sin is more than just humans being inherently depraved. Certain circumstances can change how much responsibility a person bears for what they do.
Overall I was struck by the many similarities between the Hasidim and other spiritual traditions like Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, or mystic Christianity. The revered masters of these Ways were included in Huxley's picture of the "Perennial Philosophy," and the Hasidim have a place here too. Like these other paths, the zaddiks had an intuition about life that most of us miss in the humdrum activity of the everyday. A zaddik was a"holy fool," or as Buber put it: "...a human being who, because of his undamaged direct relationship with God, has quitted the rules and regulations of the social order, though he continues to participate in the life of his fellowmen. He does not sequester himself; he is only detached. His loneliness in the face of the eternal 'Thou' is not the loneliness of the recluse, but of one who is composed and true to the world, a loneliness which includes intrinsic oneness with all living creatures."
Read information about the authorMartin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.
Buber came from a family of observant Jews, but broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy. In 1902, Buber became the editor of the weekly Die Welt, the central organ of the Zionist movement, although he later withdrew from organizational work in Zionism. In 1923 Buber wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du (later translated into English as I and Thou), and in 1925 he began translating the Hebrew Bible into the German language.
In 1930 Buber became an honorary professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main, and resigned in protest from his professorship immediately after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. He then founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education, which became an increasingly important body as the German government forbade Jews to attend public education. In 1938, Buber left Germany and settled in Jerusalem, in the British Mandate of Palestine, receiving a professorship at Hebrew University and lecturing in anthropology and introductory sociology.
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